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“Recursion”

August 31, 2013

Q: Here’s a question for you: what would you do if you could do anything you like?

The Arahant: I would produce a popular video ministry, an HD online (Vimeo or YouTube) network with Cinema-quality production values. The channel would webcast a contemporary drama series about the Buddha’s teaching and enlightenment, where the characters—monks, upāsakas and lay people—play themselves, improvising dialog from a basic plot outline—like a reality show about enlightenment.

It would be in both Sinhala & English, with subtitles, targeting the well-educated Sinhalese expat audience with realistic, relevant plots about moral & philosophical points from the Buddha’s teaching. That would be the short-term goal. As a mid-term goal, I’d want to bring Buddhist TV drama into the 21st century, upgrading production values and highlighting taboo topics that need to be talked about. As a long-term goal, cause a revolution in the way the Buddha’s teaching is perceived, both in Sri Lanka, other Theravāda countries, and globally.

Q: It sounds like you’ve put some thought into this. What would you call it?

The Arahant: Recursion, or Svayam-vimarsanayak in Sinhala. There would be stories within stories within stories, all self-referential, a real brain-teaser. The ultimate point, of course, is that ultimately everything is empty and we are left standing on nothing. The only meaning is the meaning we create, but even that is just a fabrication. Our life here is only a shadow, not a real existence.

This should not be seen as a problem, but an opportunity for developing higher consciousness. Real existence is somewhere else, and the way to that place is within. There would be quite a bit of philosophy, some of it quite advanced, but it would be expressed by plot and dialogue rather than dry lectures or ritual. We would show real, believable characters going through struggles of modern daily life, and how proper application of the Buddha’s teaching helps them make sense of it all—or not.

Plays, dance and music have always been an important part of religious culture. Call it ‘edutainment’ if you will, but nothing holds an audience’s attention like good drama. Many Suttas narrate engaging stories full of human pathos and drama that illustrate important principles of the law of kamma: for example, Kukkuravatika Sutta (MN 57) and Angulimala Sutta (MN 86).

The dramatic format, because of its natural tension, also is an ideal platform to expose and discuss sensitive issues like contemporary morality, the validity of the Commentaries, corruption in the monastic system, and the recent politicization of monks. I also see it as a way to attract a more intelligent class of people back to the teaching of the Buddha and monastic life.

Q: Seems like a big project. Would it require a lot of resources? Wouldn’t it be seen as controversial?

The Arahant: Due to advances in technology, it would require less resources than even a year ago. Compact Cinema-quality cameras are available for under $1,000 now. We already have an iMac desktop computer with advanced video– and sound-editing software. I’m sure we could even find a sponsor or two among Buddhist-owned corporations. The biggest logistical problem would be finding actors capable of improvisational theater in Sri Lanka.

Truth is always controversial; art is always controversial, especially if it’s good and exposes a corrupt established order. Philosophy must be controversial; it must provoke people to think. If we could accomplish only that, it would be well worth the effort. But there’s so much more: we ultimately could change the world in terms of how it views the Theravāda tradition. Right now there are many countries that have no significant Theravāda presence. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could reach those people and get them to see Theravāda Buddhism as cutting-edge cool?

From → Leading by Being, Q&A

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